Stanford Football: How the Cardinal Can Beat the Oregon Ducks
The No. 13 Stanford Cardinal (8-2, 6-1 Pac-12) will meet the No. 2 Oregon Ducks (10-0, 7-0 Pac-12) on Saturday in a game that has huge BCS Bowl implications for both teams.
Stanford's success this season will once again depend on the game against the Ducks.
The Cardinal's previous two seasons were nearly flawless, but even with Andrew Luck, Stanford couldn't get past Oregon. What could've been perfect seasons for the Cardinal were tarnished by the Ducks.
This year, Stanford is in a different situation. Losing to Washington and Notre Dame already, they are already out of the National Championship picture.
But if they finish the season with a couple of wins, a Rose Bowl berth is likely.
For Oregon, a spot in the National Championship is on the line. Stanford is their last real test, and if they can get past the Cardinal, there's no real reason for any other team to sneak ahead of them in the rankings.
The Ducks are heavy favorites in this matchup, but Stanford has a chance to spoil their season. Will Oregon finally fall to Stanford?
Here's how and why the Cardinal can pull off the upset.
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Even though Oregon Ducks head coach Chip Kelly refuses to talk about injuries, there's no doubt that the Ducks are hurting.
Especially on defense, Oregon is worn down and depleted. Just last week, free safety Avery Patterson had to leave the game due to injury.
And he was playing for injured starter John Boyett.
The injury situation is so bad that offensive players are even taking reps on defense. Star running back and wide receiver De'Anthony Thomas and backup QB Bryan Bennett were both seen practicing at the cornerback position.
Oregon's defensive line is also battered. In their game against Cal last week, there were times when Kelly was forced to send out a line composed of freshmen.
As for the offense, both QB Marcus Mariota and running back Kenjon Barner picked up injuries last week. Mariota did finish the game, looking as though his injury didn't even bother him.
However it is always possible that a week later, injuries start to nag and affect performance.
Both are listed as probable this week.
Kevin Hogan and Stepfan Taylor
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With Oregon's depleted defense, Stanford's offense must really take advantage of every possession, especially against the potent Ducks' offense, which averages 54.8 points per game (first in the nation).
QB Kevin Hogan recently earned the starting role after impressing head coach David Shaw in the game against Colorado.
He faced a tough Oregon State defense last week in Stanford Stadium and played well at times, but he will have to be more consistent this week against the Ducks.
Hogan will be making his first road start for the Cardinal. There's no doubt that Hogan is the right QB for Stanford, but the question is whether or not he can step up and perform in the biggest game of the season.
Stanford's star running back Stepfan Taylor will have a chance to make history with a monster game in Eugene. He's 202 rushing yards away from Darrin Nelson's school record of 4,033 career rushing yards.
Oregon's run defense looked suspect last week against Cal. Now, it's Taylor's turn to get a chance at the banged-up defense.
But both Hogan and Taylor need to play great to keep up with Oregon's offense. Stanford has yet to score more than what Oregon averages this season.
The most they've scored was 54 points against Arizona, but that included an overtime period.
Then again, the Ducks haven't faced a defense as physical as the Cardinal's, so maybe Stanford won't have to put up a ton of points on the board.
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The Cardinal defense is 12th in the nation (17.2 points allowed per game) when it comes to keeping opponents from scoring.
They are first in the nation at stopping the run (58.6 rushing yards allowed per game), which will surely help against the likes of Kenjon Barner and De'Anthony Thomas.
But here's the catch. Stanford is 101st in the nation in passing defense, allowing 262.1 passing yards per game.
This does not bode well for the Cardinal.
Last week, Cal's defense was able to limit Oregon's rushing attack, holding Kenjon Barner to only 65 yards. However, QB Marcus Mariota threw for six touchdowns.
So even if Stanford has as much success as Cal did in stopping the run, the secondary will need to step up, something that they've seemed to do as of late.
Another big aspect of Stanford's defense is penetration into the backfield. The Cardinal are first in the nation in both tackles for losses (9.1 per game) and sacks (4.2 per game).
Oregon is 106th in the nation is tackles for losses allowed (9.9 per game) and 31st in sacks allowed (1.4 per game).
We all know that Stanford loves to play physically. If they can make solid tackles on Barner and Mariota, it's possible that injuries will be re-aggravated.
Defense will likely be the deciding factor for Stanford. Oregon's losses have come from games in which they struggled to score or scored well below their average.
In their last three seasons, the Ducks have averaged only 24.7 points per game in losses.
It's About Time...
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Believe it or not, Stanford actually leads the series against the Ducks.
In 75 meetings, Stanford has won 44 of them.
If the Cardinal lose on Saturday, Oregon will have won three in a row against them. Only twice in series history has Stanford lost three or more consecutive games.
Stanford's last win against the Ducks came in 2009. It was a 51-42 victory at Stanford Stadium that gave Oregon their second loss of the season.
Who led Stanford to victory in 2009? It was none other than redshirt freshman QB Andrew Luck and senior RB Toby Gerhart.
Who will likely be the key offensive players for the Cardinal this Saturday?
Redshirt freshman QB Kevin Hogan and senior RB Stepfan Taylor.
Will history repeat itself? Hogan did look Andrew Luck-esque at times last week, and Taylor is one of Stanford's best RBs in history, just as Gerhart was during his time.
Even though the Ducks are favored by nearly 21 points, expect the Cardinal to put up a good fight, especially against the banged-up defense.
After Alabama's loss last week, will we witness another AP No. 1 team fall?